Review: God Breaketh Not All Men’s Hearts Alike: New & Collected Later Poems

Issue #117
Spring 2012

Stanley Moss published his first book, The Wrong Angel, in 1966. This current volume represents forty-three years of writing and almost three hundred poems, seventy-five of which are new, and shows the extent of his accomplishment in full force.

There’s a brooding quality to this work, an engagement with the eternal verities: the search for god, the joys and perils of love and friendship, the tragic sense of life. And yet what sets these poems apart is how they skip and dart into the surprising; they go beyond anything a reader might expect. A petrified clamshell, a gift from his friend, Stanley Kunitz, stays on his desk until the day he wears it in his “right eye, / a monocle for my talk on the relationship / between paleontology and anthropology.” The Zulu word ubuntu, which means the “essential dignity of every human being,” results in a meditation whose concluding lines are: “It is not blood but ubuntu / that is the manure of freedom.”

A sample of first lines from the new poems reveals what significant dramas his latest work contains:

Apollo, my canines are into the marrow

Give me a death like hers without tears,

Here is a lady with a unicorn in her lap,

I take my hat off to St. Francis

Moss’ subjects are substantial, his writing controlled, his imagination unbridled. This collection celebrates a long and distinguished career.

John Skoyles is the poetry editor of Ploughshares.